As has been the case in each of the last 4 weeks, the Bears fell just short in another close loss on Sunday.
This time, it was a 27-24 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta. Chicago fell to 3-8, decreasing their away record to 1-5 on the season. There was some offensive spark, but the result was the same: a porous defenses performance, and a failed attempt to take the lead back near the end of the game.
Here are some my takeaways from Sunday’s action.
Can we just wrap Justin Fields in bubblewrap for the rest of the regular season?
One could make valid arguments that the referees missed on multiple calls of either roughing the passer or unnecessary roughness against Fields, depending on the context of the play. He carried the ball 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown, and even with that high workload on the ground, Atlanta gave him more of a beating than what was honestly necessary.
This isn’t going to be a “bashing the refs” piece, though, because you can almost never place the entirety of a team’s loss on the shoulders of the officials. Some things went wrong for the Bears, and while we’ll certainly get to the defense, among the team’s issues was its pass protection.
The Falcons were credited with four sacks and five quarterback hits. Upon first glance, Braxton Jones seemed to have a solid outing at left tackle, but the rest of the group had its issues protecting Fields in the pocket. Lorenzo Carter, Grady Jarrett, Arnold Ebiketie and Abdullah Anderson all finished with sacks, generally reflecting that both Riley Reiff and the interior offensive line struggled to keep Fields upright. Specific performances will be determined upon All-22 review.
Fields made some mistakes on Sunday. He had Darnell Mooney open for a deep ball that would’ve resulted in a touchdown, but he overthrew him on the go route. He had two pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and had another hit right guard Michael Schofield in the head, generally reflecting a trend that his release point can be too low at times.
That said, as Twitter user @ilananalytics mentioned, two of Fields’ 7 incompletions were throwaways. Only two of them were truly inaccurate in terms of getting the ball down the field, and one of those — the interception — still hit David Montgomery in the hands and arguably should’ve been caught. Fields made some good throws, like his touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney and his wheel route target on a 32-yard gain to Montgomery.
His ability to extend the play was on full display again on Sunday, and the Bears really needed him for that. His agility allowed him to evade would-be tacklers and was able to bide him some time while his wide receivers figured out ways to improvise after their initial patterns fell apart. Separation was an issue for Chicago’s weapons for much of the game.
That said, the offense wasn’t entirely devoid of encouraging play. Cole Kmet caught three passes for 35 yards, including a beautiful one-handed grab in tight coverage for a 24-yard gain. Mooney had his aforementioned touchdown and finished with 4 catches for 29 yards, though his route tree was generally pretty bland. The same could be said for Chase Claypool, who was targeted three times and caught two passes for 11 yards. Equanimeous St. Brown caught both of his targets, but the top performer catching passes was Montgomery, who had 3 catches for 54 yards.
Fields was the Bears’ leading rusher, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the process. Montgomery was slightly less efficient with 17 carries for 61 yards, but he scored a touchdown, and his 3.9 yards-per-carry average wasn’t his worst outing of the year. Trestan Ebner was a general non-factor with 6 carries for only 8 yards. It’s also worth mentioning that Velus Jones Jr. had an encouraging 55-yard kick return in his only touch of the game, though that would be overshadowed by Cordarrelle Patterson’s record-breaking return for a touchdown later in the game.
After receiving plenty of praise for his play-calling over the last few weeks, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy fell back down to Earth a bit on Sunday. He had some well-designed plays like the quarterback sweep for a touchdown and the rub route that got Mooney open in the end zone, but his decisions weren’t quite sound some of the time. Fields had clearly been roughed up on a designed run in the fourth quarter, yet Getsy called another designed run to the quarterback the next play. One can try to excuse this line of thinking given Chicago’s issues separating down the field, but outright putting your hurt quarterback in position to get hurt again was malpractice on Getsy’s part.
The Bears have certainly had worse offensive performances over the years, and when compared to most of their games early on in the year, this was an outing the September Bears would’ve likely been pleased with. There were flashes, but it was still their worst offensive outing over this four-game stretch. Wherever you choose to direct that blame is your call.
Were it not for 13 rushing attempts, Marcus Mariota would have hit the turf just once over the course of Sunday.
The Bears didn’t sack the Falcons’ quarterback once all game, and save for one hit on a blitz from Jack Sanborn, Mariota didn’t get hit in his dropbacks a single time. Atlanta consistently gave him a clean pocket to work with, and while some of that means the Falcons’ offensive line deserves kudos, the fact is Chicago’s defensive line couldn’t win in one-on-one battles rushing the passer.
Mariota didn’t exactly light it up through the air, but the occasional lapse in judgment from the Bears’ secondary allowed him to move the ball down the field fairly well. Eddie Jackson broke a pass up, but most of Atlanta’s incompletions were the results of poorly-thrown balls. Jaquan Brisker did force a fumble and led the Bears with 11 tackles, notching a tackle for a loss in the progress. Aside from the aforementioned Sanborn, who had 9 tackles total, Brisker probably had the strongest outing on Chicago’s defense this Sunday.
The Bears also had issues against the run, as running backs Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson finished with 6.9 and 5.2 yards per carry, respectively. Justin Jones was the only defensive lineman to finish with multiple tackles, and Nicholas Morrow was the only front-seven defender to tally a tackle for a loss. Although tackles aren’t the greatest statistic to measure defensive performance, they generally reflect the eye test results: plugging up gaps was an issue for the group.
In 24 pass-blocking snaps for their offense, the Falcons simply dominated at the point of attack. It is an issue that has plagued the Bears throughout the season, even before they traded away both Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith. To be blunt, the team is getting what they’re paying for up front, given the lack of real investment in the current group. That’s not to say the current Bears defenders can’t continue to grow, but until the front office makes some serious additions, expect the defense to struggle.
Three and out
3. In the long run, this loss could be quite beneficial to the Bears from a pure offseason capital perspective.
A win would’ve slotted the Bears with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Instead, they’re right in the No. 3 spot if the season were to end today. Obviously, the season isn’t ending today, and the draft order will change to some extent over the next few months. That said, the difference between those two spots is massive. Not only does their current positioning basically guarantee a blue-chip prospect in the class falls to them, but it allows for the opportunity to trade back and acquire a boatload of capital.
2. The Bears’ offensive line as a whole struggled significantly on Sunday. This isn’t much of a surprise considering their play as a unit this year, but the absence of Teven Jenkins was obvious.
Upon first review, Michael Schofield struggled quite a bit for the Bears at right guard, especially in pass protection. Each of the starting five offensive linemen had various bad reps over the course of the afternoon. Ups and downs are to be expected from Braxton Jones as a rookie making the jump from the FCS game, but the veterans of the bunch didn’t hold their own in pass protection enough. That doesn’t totally exonerate Fields by any means, but it adds some context to his stat line.
1. Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams finds himself in no man’s land right now.
A lack of pressure generated up front limits him to generally vanilla play calls, and even when he calls for the blitz, something seems bound to go wrong in the secondary more often than not. The Bears have a young secondary, but missed assignments in zone coverage have been an issue all season. Only those in the building know to which extent the players are responsible and to which extent the coaches are to blame, but the secondary as a whole needs to improve. With how much money Chicago has to spend, it shouldn’t be out of the question that they invest a bit more at cornerback this offseason.